A guide to reading with children

Before founding The Writing For Pleasure Centre, Felicity Ferguson spent the majority of her career teaching reading. She specialises in reading instruction but particularly reading instruction with less experienced readers, children with SEN and children with EAL.

Her guide to reading with children will be useful for SENCOs, teachers, assistant teachers, parents, reading volunteers, librarians – anyone who is interested in reading alongside children.

You can download her guide here:

What Is It Good Young Readers Do?

Connect With The Book

  • Explain what they know about the book so far.
  • Connect with the themes of the book. Relate parts of the book to their own lives and experiences.


  • Make logical, plausible or inventive suggestions as to what could happen next in the book or about the character(s) personality and intentions.


  • Ask ‘Looking’ questions: Find answers to their questions in the text.
  • Ask ‘Clue’ questions: Use clues in the text to find answers.
  • Ask ‘Thinking’ questions: Give their opinion on the text.


  • Ask for clarification about unknown words or phrases.
  • Look to confirm they understand what’s going on.


  • Tell you the main events, actions, or ideas in the text so far.
  • Cut out what isn’t needed and only tell you what is most important.

Think Aloud

  • Read a few sentences or a paragraph and talk about their thoughts so far.


  • Develop a visual image of the written text.
  • Draw about what they have read.

Reader In The Writer

  • Develop a written text based on or in personal response to what they have read.

What To Do When Reading Alongside Children

We learn to read so that we may read to learn, but more important is to learn a love of reading. Orin Cochrane

Your role as a supportive adult is to help children become ‘reader thinkers’. Thinking is intrinsic to reading. Thinking should happen after reading, thinking must happen before reading  (as readers set up expectations of what the book will be about) and it must happen during reading (as readers confirm or disconfirm their predictions).  As the co-reader, you must help children understand that you respect their thinking and share yours too.

The best things you can do when helping a child learn to read:

  • Devote time to it. Make it a quality experience. Show your own interest and pleasure.
  • See yourself a co-reader – take part and offer sensitive support. You’re not there simply to be read to but to engage in the text yourself too! Ask your own questions. Talk about the things it makes you think of too.
  • Allow children to choose the text.
  • Always remember, children are allowed to skip a word or two. They come back to it, they can guess what a word is if they want to. These are all strategies used by real-life good readers. Fluency and meaning are ultimately what’s important.

The worst things you can do when helping a child to read:

  • Rush the experience.
  • Ask children to read a text they haven’t chosen for themselves.
  • Control the reading.
  • Focus only on the decoding of the text – not socialising over the text.
  • Insist on 100% accuracy in word-reading above everything else.
  • Stop to correct errors immediately (don’t stop the child’s ‘flow’ or enjoyment of the text but instead come back to it later).
  • Asking child to read a text ‘cold’, without talking about it or ‘warming it up’ beforehand.
  • Leave no time for discussion or response.

How Do We Decode Text?

You may think that reading is all about pronouncing the words correctly and using only phonics or ‘sounding it out’. This isn’t the case and in fact sometimes this can slow a child’s reading right down if over used.

There are three tools that we all use to read, these are:

1. Grapho-phonic – letters and the sounds they make.
But please also encourage children to also use:
2. Semantic –using what they know about the story to inform them of what a word might be. – This can sometimes be aided by using the letter sound at the beginning of the word.
3. Syntactic – using what they already know about the sentence – again, this can sometimes be aided by using the letter sound.

Before you start reading, choose one of the following:

  • Read a paragraph and have the child read the same paragraph immediately after.
  • Alternatively, read with (in unison) and drop out and join in when you feel it is right to so (this can be done quietly, under breath).
  • Share the reading. One page each.

When you start reading:

  • If you know some background about the book, share it with the child. This means they can begin reading knowing what to expect.
  • If they have already started the book, have them briefly explain what the book is about or what happened last time.

During reading, encourage the following:

  • Predicting

Ask: what could it be? What’s the opening sound of the word? Cover up the word and have them consider what it would be and actually, sometimes, simply give them the word.

  • Self-correcting

Sometimes children will misread a word. That’s OK – sometimes they will self-correct. You do not need to tackle every misread word, particularly if their choice makes sense in the context of the story.

  • Confirming

Ask: does it make sense? Check the text – read it again?

  • Talk! Talk about both your responses to the text: depending on level of the book – every paragraph/page or so.
  • So tell me, what have we just read?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What do you think will happen in next?
  • Does this book remind you of anything from your life?
  • Does this remind you of anything else you’ve seen or read?
  • If the author or character was here right now? What would you talk to them about?

After reading:

Ask the child what they would give the book out of 10 so far and ask them why. If it is a low score, ask them if they wish to drop the book and choose a new one. Explain that they should always read the first 20 pages of a book before they drop it. After 20 pages, explain that it is fine to drop a book if you don’t like it.

Ask them about their future reading plans – what have they got their eye on next?

What Should We Write In The Reading Record Books?

Here are some suggestions you can definitely focus on:

Attitude & Style:

  • Does the child read with: pleasure, enthusiasm, commitment, involvement, interest, ease, expression, fluency, confidence, stamina, understanding, rhythm, appreciation, independence or pace?
  • Has the child made comments about: theme, humour, sadness, worry, excitement or their own response – if so, what?
  • Is the child willing/keen to talk about books with you; share/recommend them to other children or to you?


  • Does the child use the three strategies above – Or does the child over-rely on one?
  • Does the child read for meaning or sense?
  • Does he/she self-correct?
  • Do they have a “re-run” of some sentences if they are unsure or do they just continue on regardless?
  • Read on and then go back and correct themselves?
  • Do they flick back through the book to talk about something from earlier?
  • Do they stop to talk to you about something they are thinking about?
  • Does the child use context or pictures to predict what is coming?
  • Does the child pay attention to word-structure, letters – and to the structure of language?
  • Is the child progressing, developing, becoming more fluent and confident?
  • Are they using voices and otherwise performing the text?

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